"When Wang Zhenyu moved out of his small village in central Henan province to the coastal city of Dalian at 18, he was astonished. “It was like a culture shock for me, even though it was just a big city in my country, not a foreign land.” A few years later when he was enrolled in Peking University as a graduate student, he found much fewer students in the country’s top university coming from a similar background to his.
Growing up in a small village of 2,000 farmers, many of Wang’s childhood friends dropped out of school after finishing their nine years of compulsory education. Now with a decent academic job, Wang begins to experience “reverse culture shock” every time he goes back to his village for the annual lunar new year.
“When I get together with my childhood friends in my village, the number of attendees reduces every year. Some went out to be migrant workers in big cities then never came back; others have gotten used to the life as villagers. It’s the poverty that is dividing us. It’s a vicious circle.”
As China grows wealthier as a country, its gaps between rich and poor, urban and rural also increase. Although the country’s official Gini coefficient, a measurement of income inequality, has improved slightly in recent years, experts have also questioned its accuracy. Last May, Premier Li Keqiang revealed that 600 million citizens only earn about 1,000 yuan (£112) a month, indicating the extent of the problem. Many worry the Covid pandemic may have reversed the trend."